Clockwise, from left, youth mentor Christopher Thompson, Dr. Chika Oriuwa and sprinters Khamica Bingham and Cassandra Pascal are among the speakers in the “Black Futures” series. Photos courtesy Dufferin-Peel Catholic Dsitrict School Board

Series aims to focus on Black history year round

By  Kathleena Henricus, Youth Speak News
  • February 17, 2021

For more than 10 years the Dufferin-Peel Catholic school board has hosted its “Black Futures” symposium during Black History Month in February. The goal though is to go beyond just one month in the calendar.

“Educators are encouraged to use the sessions throughout the year to keep the conversation about Black history going beyond February,” said Joanna Newton, equity and inclusion consultant with the Dufferin-Peel Catholic District School Board, west of Toronto.

The annual speakers’ series, said Newton, “seeks to nurture an understanding of hope, to value and affirm the lived experiences of Black Canadians and to reject the sin of racism.” It’s a forum for high school students “to learn, celebrate and embrace the past, present and future contributions of Black communities in Canada.”

“Through individual presentations and discussions, this speakers’ series serves to inform and empower all participants. Students have an opportunity to hear from some of the GTA’s most relevant educators, thinkers and cultural figures who contribute to the vibrancy of the Black community in Canada.”

This year’s theme is “Nurturing Hope,” with the aim of giving students the opportunity “to gather in Christ’s presence in an atmosphere of trust and equality, to share and learn from the lived experiences of Black Canadians,” she said.   

Naturally, this year’s symposium is being presented as a virtual speaker series in light of the COVID-19 pandemic. Throughout February a number of pre-recorded talks have and will be delivered by several aspirational and contemporary Black Canadian figures. Among these are physician and spoken word artist Dr. Chika Oriuwa, who made history in 2020 as the first Black female doctor to be named valedictorian of the University of Toronto medical program. She’s also a graduate of the DPCDSB by way of St. Thomas Aquinas Secondary School in Oakville, Ont.

Elite professional sprinters Khamica Bingham (who ran at the 2016 Rio Olympics) and Cassandra Pascal (NCAA, CIS, Team Canada), and Christopher Thompson, the founder of the youth mentorship non-profit Skills for Life, are among other speakers.

Speakers are addressing the current political climate as well as key ideas and sentiments of modern-day discourse surrounding Black Canadians and our social institutions. 

“The speakers will share their personal stories and insights on the realities of anti-Black racism, Black identity and its intersections, education, politics, the arts, mental health and well-being, constructs of beauty, social justice and activism, Black Canadian history,” said Newton.

All multimedia content is slated to focus on the contributions of Black Canadians and the exposure to Black history will empower students to learn about the realities facing Black Canadians, how non-Black students can be allies to the Black community and how to navigate this current social climate with respect, compassion and support for Black Canadians.

Newton adds that this series satisfies some of the need for Black history and Black rights being incorporated into our education system, and is an invigorating and hopeful start in getting Catholic and Canadian education to a place of inclusion. 

“As a Catholic community we need to be vessels of hope and justice.”

The board is aiming to release Black History Month online media resources for the rest of the school year.

(Henricus, 16, is a Grade 11 student at Cawthra Park Secondary in Mississauga, Ont.)

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